Amma Canteens: As I have seen

Irrespective of what happened with Amma, I’d like to bring forth critical analysis of one of the measures Ms.Jayalalitha brought about.

Though many of you may already know what Amma canteens are, for those of who have not heard of it, here is a small introduction.

They are called Amma Unavagam (in Tamil) are part of food subsidization program run by Govt of Tamilnadu, they are the food chains serving South Indian food Idli, Sambar Rice, Curd Rice, Pongal, Lemon Rice. These dishes are offered at low prices – INR1 for an Idli, INR5 for a plate of Sambar Rice and INR3 for a plate of Curd Rice, etc.

Tamil Nadu over the years has been a pioneer in introducing populist policies. Amma Canteen is one such, and has become a super hit in Chennai. Besides cheaper food, the major good that these canteens do is by involving self help group (SHG) women in cooking, serving, and managing it.

1.  “Amma” canteen is undoubtedly a powerful gender empowerment intervention, especially if it sustains and expands on the scale that they are looking for it to.

2. Apart from low price, the quality of food, the cleanliness of the canteen, and its operational effectiveness is of the highest order which is generally not seen in any enterprise taken up Govt.


1. Pricing challenges, as given in wikipedia.

It has been reported that massive losses are incurred by the corporations offering food at such abysmally low rates. As an example, for Coimbatore Municipal Corporation, the loss was about INR2.64 for an Idli, 9.73 for a unit of sambar rice and 4.44 for a unit of curd rice, thereby incurring a total loss of about 2.70 crore (US$420,000) a year

2. Apart from the cost challenges what I think, the problem with public systems is that it is less likely to be effective in responding to changing markets and trends. Over time, the management systems may degenerate and the canteens may become complacent and burden like many of the existing enterprises of Govt .

What could be a good strategy?

Public private partnerships (PPPs) could be an answer, the most ideal PPP would be to let these canteens become fully owned and operated by SHGs. The local governments should provide technical assistance in standardization, quality management, and expedite licenses and approvals. The pricing should be re-strategised to cause minimal losses without compromising quality, and serve items that are reasonable.

Some membership method should be introduced to properly address the target group, so that there is no social loafing.

Initially they seem to be bang for the buck, with all the popularity, but it wouldn’t be practical for governments to support such canteens over a longer period of time and in large scale, such PPPs offer the best strategy for Govt to gradually phase out of it.

If successfully managed and re-strategised to keep it up and running for a long time, and keep the popularity it has gained on high, it will set an awesome example for public policy.

Do suggest any measures if you can think of, remember “Ideas shared are ideas multiplied”

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